04 August 2012

Day 12, June 13. Johannesburg and home.

The safari feels over, but we are still traveling. Our flight back to the US doesn't leave until the evening. So, we tour Johannesburg. Tonia has hired a motorcoach to take us around town.

The D'Oreale Grande:

D'Oreale Grande

D'Oreale Grande

As we drove, Tonia told us the history of Johannesburg as well as of South Africa. We went to Nelson Mandela's historic home. We also visited the Apartheid Museum. She took us to Soweto, where she had arranged a local guide. The guide showed us educational projects and gave us a tour of his own home and the area around it. Soweto is the most populous black urban residential area in South Africa, and historical in its role in the struggle against apartheid. Finally she took us to the airport and helped us negotiate immigration, then we said our sad good-byes. Tonia is the best tour guide ever! She took such good care of us, knew everything about everything, and was fun to talk to. I'm linking to her website below.

At the airport, Paula bought a gift for each of the guys:

animal droppings

A little remembrance for dung-spitting!

Long flights, and we are home. What a great trip. Thanks to Tonia, Odyssey Unlimited, and the Roaming Buffs for their parts in this tour.

Tonia's Tusker Trails: www.tuskertrails.co.za
Odysseys Unlimited: www.odysseys-unlimited.com
University of Colorado Roaming Buffs: www.cualum.org/travel-home/

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03 August 2012

Day 11. Good-bye to safari days.

I kept a handwritten journal of the trip. Here is my entry for this morning.

John got up early and went fishing, while I watched a monkey in our tree and got some great coffee and sent a couple emails. All last night, we enjoyed the sounds of the hippos, knowing we might never hear them again. We packed up and had our last breakfast on the Royal Zambezi Lodge deck. Got in the safari truck, looking wistfully back at the lodge as we drove to the airstrip.

That said, here are my photos from the morning.

monkey in tree

View at sunrise:

view at sunrise

Breakfast table:

breakfast table

breakfast table

The view:


Bye-bye hippos:

view of submerged hippos

We are just about to leave. John talking to the chef. That's Simeon on the right.

John and Simeon

The entrance to the Royal Zambezi. Our bags are being loaded, and our group is standing at the top of the steps.

Royal Zambezi Lodge

Bye jeep.

safari jeep

Here's our plane.

our plane

The small plane took us on the 30 minute flight to Lusaka (Zambia), where we caught a plane for the 1 hour 45 minute flight to Johannesburg. We again stayed at the L'Oreale Grande. This time, we had time to explore the hotel. We found it was connected to the huge casino area next door. We ambled through the noisy gambling machines and card gambling areas. There was a fake "outside" area. It was so much like Las Vegas, and not what I had expected to see in South Africa.

We gathered for our final dinner together. It was wonderful, I scanned in a copy of the menu. We talked a lot and drank probably too much. A fitting last dinner for our trip.

our group


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02 August 2012

Day 10. Afternoon and evening.

On the way back to the Royal Zambezi from the village visit, we saw some hippos on the shore. When our boat came near, some of them decided to go into the water.



These two guys stayed on shore. But where are the others? Under the water somewhere.


We had a nice, lazy afternoon to enjoy the Royal Zambezi. From our tent we could hear the hippos bellow. They bellow all night too. We'd hear other animal sounds too at night, I think we heard a lion roar once, or a hyena call.

I did a last photo tour so that I'd have reminders of our tent and the lodge. Here is the view from the deck of our tent. The low wall you see is just above the swimming pool and then to the right, the bar. That's John sitting there talking to Doug.

the bar from our tent

Our deck:

our deck

This is the door to our tent (where our "knock knock" call came each morning). Note that locks on lodge units are not necessary out in this remote area. We did have a room safe for our passports and cash, so that we did not have to carry them on daily activities.

door to our tent

Our short walk to the lodge. Short, but at night, we had to be escorted by our guide.

Royal Zambezi

The view of the lodge as we get closer on the walk from our tent. To the left is the river, to the right is a long stairway up to the jeeps and the way out to civilization.

Royal Zambezi

The steps out:

Royal Zambezi

The photo below is of two of the boats. The ones we took seated 8 people, but they looked like these boats. Some people come to the lodge just to fish.


John and Doug at the bar:


The pool is right next to the bar. It was way too chilly this time of year to swim. We had to ask for extra blankets at night.


A view of the lodge from the bar area:

Royal Zambezi

Looking through the lodge (my back was to the river) at the steps up to the jeeps:


Those steps were about the only exercise we got on the entire trip.

One of the large alcoves of the lodge:

Royal Zambezi

Lodge area:

Royal Zambezi

Royal Zambezi

At 4 pm we climbed down into a boat and went for a sundowner. I left the camera behind. This time, I'm out only to enjoy the here and now.

One of our tour mates did not have a good photo of an open-mouthed hippo yet, so we spent some time chasing down the perfect hippo. That was a fun challenge, because if they smelled or saw you, they'd immediately duck down in the water. On the shore, we saw a bushbuck, a type of antelope that we had not yet seen on the trip.

We landed on an island and had our drinks and snacks. A cape buffalo herd was on the island, a viable, breeding group. Simeon and I talked about the sustainablity of the herds of elephants in national parks like Chobe, where the animals are eating all of the vegetation. Maybe the herds need to be culled, but if locals try to do that, international groups get wind of their plans and cry at the outrage of killing elephants. It was an eye-opening talk, and once again I was impressed with Simeon's knowledge.

We were greeted with amarula on our return to the lodge. This is a cream liqueur made from the fruit of the African marula tree. It is a favorite of our tour guide and at least one of our tour mates. It was lovely!

Dinner that night was a traditional braai, or barbecue. We lingered awhile after dinner, then made our way back to our tent. I'd been inside for just a few minutes when I heard a lot of crashing outside. I looked out, and there was an elephant! And we thought they were kidding about needing a guard! A couple of our tour members were walking on the path when the elephant went by. After the initial startle, they walked slowly backwards to the lodge.

Ah, Africa. Wish we could stay.

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01 August 2012

Day 10. Trip to a village.

Today we visit a village to learn about the local culture and to visit the village school. We leave about eight in the morning for the trip. It's a 45 minute, very cold boat ride. We are met by the village hostess, or village tour guide.

Chiawa village:


village sign

The children of the village are very curious about their tourist-visitors. Below is a photo of the first kids that we saw. Don't worry, I have better photos of these beautiful young people. At this point, I am documenting that from the very first moment, the children started following us around.

village kids

Our village guide gives a short introductory presentation, then we walk through the living area of the village. There are huts and small buildings scattered around, a central area with a water pump and a farmers market, and kind of a city-center area with music and bars.





Okay, here are the photos of kids. We were forewarned that they liked to have their pictures taken, and then they want to see the photo on our digital cameras. Those of us taking photos were nearly mobbed, in a friendly and cute way. The photos below are only a fraction of the all the photos I took.

village kids

village kids

village kids

village kids
note the schoolgirl dressed in green behind the group of kids

village kids

village kids

village kids

village kids

village kids

The village school is near the edge of the village.

village school
entry to school

village school

village kids
a schoolgirl

The school goes from primary grades through high school. We visited several different classrooms, or grades. In each, our tour group was presented to the students and they said hello to us in English. In one classroom, we were encouraged to go around and talk to individual students. Below is a photo of the entrance to the science class.

village school

More kids:

village kids

This class is made up of orphans (many are AIDs orphans).

school kids

Next, we went to the "cultural" area of the village. This is an area not so much actively lived-in as preserved to show the cultural heritage of the local peoples. We were taught how to properly greet the chief, and then we met the chief. Then we walked around the different huts and our guide explained what is done in each one, such as food storage or preparation, etc.



Our village guide then took us to see a small museum and explained all the artifacts:

village museum

This is the "hippo watch tower". Someone is always on watch and ready to give an alert if a hippo tries to come into the village. Hippos and elephants wreak havoc on gardens, and hippos will charge right over anyone who comes between them and the water.

hippo watch tower

Making flour:

making flour

The final part of the tour was a dance recital by the local village women.

At one point, they came out into the audience and tied sashes around our waists and led us back to join in their dance.

They demonstrated a "spinner top" game. John tried it.

We returned by boat to the Royal Zambezi in the early afternoon. This is our last full day of the safari, we are sad it's almost over. Well, at least we have the afternoon to enjoy.

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31 July 2012

Day 9, afternoon and evening.

At about 11 am we get into the jeep to go on a picnic. Once again, we drive for awhile on the crazy, steep trails.

crazy jeep trail

We head towards the mountains. The picnic spot is under a large tree, and near a waterfall. We come to the picnic area first. There, a crew from the lodge has set up canvas chairs, a table loaded with food (there are only eight of us!), and a full bar. There is also a handwashing station for trips to the guarded "bush toilet". Are we pampered or what? This is crazy.




We settle into enjoying our food and drinks. Nothing like being in Africa enjoying a gin and tonic.

A short jeep ride takes us to the river. The falls dump into the river near the rocks to the left in this photo:

near the falls

Hmm, maybe the gin and tonics weren't the best idea. Because, the next thing the tipsy tourists do is climb up a cliff to the top of the falls. We have to step up steep and wet rocks, while perched on the edge of a dropoff. I and the other women (except Tonia) stayed at a spot mid-way up that had a great view of the falls, while the others went to the very top. I braced myself steadily against a huge rock and took some photos.

the falls

the falls

the falls

The guys came back, smiling:

guys at the falls

John and Simeon:

John and Simeon

We returned to the Royal Zambezi, and after a short rest we went out on a canoe trip. The canoes were towed down the river to where a secondary, small river forms a passage for a short distance between two spots on the Zambezi River. I think it's the same area we were in when we saw the maternal herd cross the river the day before. I didn't take my camera because I didn't want to risk getting it wet. We saw elephants and hippos and crocodiles, and we kept our distance since we were in a canoe rather than a large jeep. It was a peaceful, quiet way to view the animals.

Back at the lodge we were again met with glasses of sherry. Later, we went on a night jeep drive, not quite as exciting as the night before, but we did see for the first time a bush baby. Dinner at the lodge that night was fresh caught perch, one of the best meals in a trip of excellent meals.

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30 July 2012

Day 9, early morning nature walk.

"Knock knock". Time to get up for our 6:30 am foot-tour nature walk.

Coffee and light breakfast foods get us moving. We'd found out yesterday that there was really only enough hot water for one shower in the morning. I, as the female, of course claimed it. (When we mentioned this to the staff, they turned up the hot water system. Tonia calls hot water heaters "geysers", which gave us a laugh. But that really is the term for a hot water heater in South Africa.)

An armed guard accompanies us on this trip, because we are on foot. He and Simeon and the rest of us get into the boat that takes us a little way down the river. We get out at a pretty spot that shows a lot of erosion and mini-grand canyon style formations. I left my camera behind on purpose, because we didn't expect to see many animals - in fact, we hoped we would not see big or predatory animals on this trip.

Simeon knows everything about the wildlife in southern Africa. He is a Zimbabwe citizen who has a work permit for Zambia, and is employed in the tourism profession. (We can see Zimbabwe every day, as it is just across the Zambezi River.) Simeon uses his smart phone constantly, and believes that it is just that sort of technology that will bring Africans into mainstream world culture. The power of knowledge. He sure impressed us, both with his intelligence and his wit.

So, what did we see on the nature walk? We saw termite mounds and learned that termites cultivate fungus gardens. The termites never come above ground; they travel through underground tunnels to gather wood a long way from the mound. Here is a photo of a termite mound (and a tree) that we saw in Chobe National Park:

termite mound

We saw pottery and other artifacts of tribes that used to live in the area. When the area became a national park, they moved all of the natives to other parts of the country. This causes great grief to these peoples to this day, because they believe that they need to live where their ancestors are buried in order to have proper guidance for their daily lives. A sad story with no resolution.

We saw a lot of animal tracks. Impala prints were everywhere. Hippos made narrow paths inland; you didn't see individual prints, just the path. Simeon showed us elephant prints, and explained how an elephant print can be actually two overlapping footprints. When walking, an elephant places its back foot in the same spot where the front foot had been. When they go faster, the back foot will step further forward. Thus, you can tell how fast an elephant was moving by studying the footprints. Here is a photo of an elephant print that I took in Chobe National Park:

elephant footprint

We also saw a lot of animal dung. Elephant dung has a lot of local uses, and can be made into paper. As with a lot of animal species, impala dung helps males mark their territory.

Simeon picked up a piece of impala dung. Then he said, "Boys in the villages have a lot of time spent sitting around, thinking of things to do. One thing that all boys everywhere like to do is show their skill. One game is to put a piece of dung in their mouth and see who can spit it the furthest."

Then he looked at the guys in our group. "Try it" he said. He handed each guy a piece of dung and in fact, he put one in his own mouth. The dung was dry and odorless. In turn, Ted, Doug, and John put a piece of dung in their mouth, and lined up. "One, two, three, go!" and they spit the dung out.

Who won? I forget. But us girls giggled a lot. To this day, we think Simeon was just pulling our legs and having a good laugh on our account, but we are not really sure.

dung game

dung game

photos courtesy Tonia

We gathered around a huge double-baobab tree for a group photo. These are Tonia's photos - thanks Tonia for sending them to us.

our group

our group

By about 10 am we return to our lodge. I took some photos of our tent as we lounged around, resting for our next adventures.

our tent

The desk and my "charging station", and John out on our deck. The lodge area is powered by a generator. The electrical system is different from in the US, but I had brought a converter for my iTouch and camera battery charger. Free wi-fi was available up at the lodge.

our tent

The toilet area:

our tent


our tent


our tent

Entry to the bathroom:

our tent

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29 July 2012

Day 8, late afternoon/evening safari drive.

We left for our next safari drive at 3 pm. This drive lasted until almost 8 pm. Long, but one of the most exciting outings we had on the entire trip.

About an hour into the drive, we came upon a mother and baby elephant.


The group of elephants turned in our direction and were right along the road we were on.


That mom did not want us in her way. She definitely let us know that we should stop and wait for her to cross with her baby.


Here is some attitude:

elephant with attitude

This elephant sashays away, showing us who is boss in the bush:


The elephants in Chobe were tame compared to the elephants we saw here in the Lower Zambezi. We definitely felt a difference in attitude in the elephants here. We kept our distance!


The elephants were wilder, but also, we did not see the same level of habitat destruction as we did in the Chobe park. You'll note from the photos that the bush looks healthier in the Lower Zambezi.

The movie below is the same group of elephants, now crossing a shallow river. You can hear us talking about how the elephants have us a bit intimidated!

When Simeon started down this jeep trail to the river, we thought he was going off a cliff!

steep jeep trail

A pretty view of the river. That's a hippo in the water.

river scenery

A baobab tree:


It's almost half past five. Time for a sundowner! Simeon brings us to a pretty spot on the river and we watch the sun set:



Simeon and his helper set up our sundowner bar:

sundowner bar

Wow, is this ever the way to travel!

When we got back in the jeep, I put away my camera. It's too dark to take photos by this time. (I regret this decision later.)

This movie below doesn't show much, but it gives you an idea of what it was like driving around in the dark. The helper kept shining a spotlight left, then right, back and forth across the jeep trail and into the bush on either side.

Whenever the guides saw an animal, they would turn off the jeep lights. One reason is that prey animals such as impalas would be put at a disadvantage, meaning, predators could easily see them. Once we suddenly had a hippo in the headlights. Simeon immediately stopped the jeep and turned off the lights and we waited quietly until the hippo left. It's not a good idea to be in the way of a hippo, even in a jeep.

We drove through a herd of elephants. We couldn't see them, but we could hear them crashing through the trees on the left, the right, behind, and in front of us. Suddenly one trumpeted right next to the jeep! We all jumped about a foot and slid over to the other side of the jeep to get away. We didn't feel entirely safe, even in the big vehicle. These elephants are wild! They showed attitude in the daylight, but at night, that "attitude" was multiplied by about ten! What an experience.

About half past six, we saw another light, and a jeep that had stopped. What are they looking at? Maybe a leopard in a tree? That jeep leaves and we drive up to where they were. Simeon stops the jeep and turns off the jeep lights. Then they shine the light in the tree and - there! a leopard!

It was so amazing to see. She was looking right at us. Tonia told us that the leopard looks very pregnant. I didn't get a photo - I tried, but I had it set to "no flash" and didn't get it out of my camera bag and changed to "flash" in time. I was sort of thinking that we shouldn't be taking a flash photo of wild animals. Oh well, Tonia got a good photo, and sent a copy to me:

our leopard
photo of our leopard courtesy of Tonia

The leopard eventually moved out of the tree and walked away. That was just so cool!

We kept driving around for another hour. There was word of another leopard sighting that didn't pan out. The sharp-eyed guides found other animals, though, and spotlighted them for us to see: a jennet, a civet, a white tailed mongoose, and a waterbuck.

Finally, we return to the lodge and an 8 o'clock, three-course dinner. All of us put that crazy wild drive through the elephants and the sighting of the leopard as among our top three experiences of the trip. We are glad we still have another couple days to enjoy the Lower Zambezi.

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27 July 2012

Day 8, morning safari drive.

"Knock, knock." That's our wake-up "call" at the Royal Zambezi, spoken by one of the helpers at our tent door.

At the lodge we are offered a buffet of fruit salad, yogurt, breakfast breads, juices, and of course, coffee! We watch the sun rise over the river as we enjoy our early morning nourishment and caffeine.



Soon we are off in the safari jeep for the short drive to the entrance to the Lower Zambezi National Park. We get there about 7 am. Our guide Simeon jumps out of the jeep and talks to the park rangers who man the office. They gesture and talk awhile, pointing up and down the road. Simeon comes back and says "a big male lion just walked by the office, heading back down the road, out of the park." So we turn around. We are off to track the lion!

Is this crazy or what? Besides the report of the park rangers, our guide bases the male lion presence and direction of travel on these footprints in the sand:

lion tracks

I can't see the tracks in the above photo, but I'm not an expert. We'll have to trust our guide.

Simeon and Tonia talk about the habits of male lions as we drive along. Dominant male lions service females - lionesses - in different prides. This particular lion is likely on the move from one pride to another, since his prints are always on the road (easier to travel than the bush) and he is taking a straight, direct path (to wherever he is going). He is on a mission!

We come to an area with a slow moving river beneath a tall, red-earth cliff. No lions here, but a group of baboons is hanging out. It's amazing how they can go right up the cliff. I took lots of photos in the early morning sunlight.




Awhile later we saw an African open-bill:

African open-bill

Half an hour into the lion-tracking, we enter Lower Zambezi National Park through a different entrance than we had originally intended:

park entrance

An hour later, the jeep trail went up a very steep, rutted, and overgrown trail. The driver tried to get the jeep up it, but it just wasn't making it. So we all got out of the jeep and walked on ahead a little ways, and they cut bushes out of the way and and tried again.

Nope, it didn't make it that time. He tried again.

Yeah! This time he made it.

It was worth getting the jeep up that steep trail - at the top, Simeon drew a circle around some lion tracks. I think I can see the print in this photo.

lion tracks

We did see a baboon:


And we saw a really neat tree called a "strangler fig". This "tree" begins as a seedling in the crevice of another tree, and grows roots down and branches up, eventually enveloping the other tree and strangling it.

strangler fig

We drove and drove on the dusty roads, looking for that lion. Up hills, around curves, down hills, backtracking, going through water - this was a heavy duty four-wheel drive trip. Simeon or his helper often had to push branches out of the jeep's way. We saw a lot of scenery, but no lions. Finally we gave up and drove up the mountain a little ways and stopped for coffee and treats (and bush toilet). The views were nice, so I'll share a few of my scenery photos.




I crouched down and pretended I was a lion in the grasses:

lion grasses

(It does look like the grasses you see lions in in nature movies, don't you think?)

We get back in the jeep and spend another hour on the roads. More scenery, that's about all we saw.


No lions here:


A couple kudus near a mud hole:

kudus near mud hole

Acacia trees:

acacia trees

Over four hours after starting the lion-tracking, we come to the private airstrip, so we know we are just about back to our lodge.

private airstrip

Dusty and a little tired of the bouncing jeep, we gratefully return to our lodge. It was an interesting time and we saw a lot of the Lower Zambezi National Park. We had an adventure, even though we never saw the male lion.

We sat down to a brunch and enjoyed the great, quiet views of the river. We then had several hours to enjoy our tent and bar and the surroundings. I sat out and watched a monkey climb around the tree in front of our tent. We needed this time to rest: we have another safari drive scheduled for this evening. Unlike in Chobe National Park, in the Lower Zambezi we are allowed to drive around looking for animals after the sun sets. We want to see a leopard!

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25 July 2012

Day 7, afternoon and evening at the Royal Zambezi.

Let me tell you about the Royal Zambezi. We are greeted like we are long-lost friends who have just come home. It's isolated and intimate, and right on the Zambezi River. There are only 14 suites at the Royal Zambezi and there are not many other lodges nearby, since the location is a difficult drive or expensive charter flight from Lusaka. During our stay, we never saw the crowds of tourists that we saw in Chobe or at Victoria Falls.

There are a lot of people employed at the lodge, from the extraordinary chef to the manager to the boat and safari drivers to the waiters and room helpers to the grounds staff. We are assigned a "guard" who will escort us from the lodge to our room each evening. This is because elephants and hippos and other animals freely roam the lodge grounds. They weren't kidding! The last evening we were there, an elephant was right outside our tent and surprised several members of our group on the pathway to the tents.

Our "tent" is actually a permanent structure, with concrete floors and half-walls. It has a bathroom and shower in it. The sides are screens with shades to roll down for privacy.

our tent

From the inside, it's kind of like being outside. John and I both love the outdoors, so this suited us to a tee.

looking out of our tent

That first afternoon, we sat in our tent and looked out at a couple elephants on the sandbar.

view from out tent

Our tent is only a short walk from the lodge. The lodge is open to the view, and full of comfy chairs and animal books. Tables on the deck are set with white tablecloths right on the deck in the open air for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each day, we arrange our meal times around our activities.

the lodge

We arrived at the Royal Zambezi in the early afternoon and were served lunch. After we explored our new lodge, we went out on a boat for a "sundowner". This means, we boated around and looked at animals, then pulled over to the bank. We sat on the shore and were served gin and tonics and mini-pizzas. (Can we go back yet?)

I'll share some photos from that first afternoon. First, the elephants on the sandbar outside the lodge.

elephants on sandbar

A crocodile going down to the river.


From the boat, we looked back at our tents. The two elephants are still wandering along the sandbar.

elephants by lodge

Malachite kingfisher:

malachite kingfisher

We watched an elephant for awhile. In the first photo, he is with a white egret in flight.


The elephant came right towards our boat:


Then he came into the water:






He's playing with the water:


Note the hills behind the river. Our previous lodges were on plains.


Simeon (our local guide) brought our boat back to the Royal Zambezi. We walked up from the dock and were greeted with glasses of sherry. Lovely! An hour or so later, we gathered with Tonia and our group for a leisurely, three course gourmet dinner, and drank wine and talked and laughed into the night. Finally we take an escorted walk to our tent.

And soon, the low bellows of hippos lull us to sleep.

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24 July 2012

Day 7, travel to Zambia and the Royal Zambezi.

We leave the Chobe Safari Lodge at 8 am and Sefi drives us the ten minutes or so to the border of Botswana and Zambia. Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia all meet at a point to the west of Victoria Falls. Before, we entered Botswana by going west over the Zimbabwe land-border. This time, we will go north from Botswana over the Zambezi River into Zambia. We were never very far from this multiple-country border while we were in Botswana, and in fact we could see Namibia on our boat trips.

map of Zambia
image credit

Our travel today will take us first to the town of Livingstone, just north over the Zambezi River from Victoria Falls. (Victoria Falls is in Zimbabwe, Livingstone is in Zambia.) Next, we will take a charter flight from the Livingstone Airport to our new lodge near Lusaka, Zambia.

On the drive to the border, we see miles of big trucks parked along the side of the road. In line are tons of semis with long trailers piled high or low with construction materials or other goods. Tonia explains that drivers sometimes wait weeks to get their vehicle across the border. Not only do they have to wait for the ferry, there are regulations, fees, inspections, and who knows what else to get past. So inefficient, such a hamper to business, so rife with the possibility of corruption and bribery.

The front of the line of trucks:

line of trucks at border

We are stamped out of Botswana at a small, efficient office. Our own people-only ferry awaits to take us to Zambia.


I take some photos of the river crossing. Just looks like another river from this view.

border at the river

Looking back from our ferry at the line of trucks on the shore.

line of trucks at border

A truck ferry ready to be loaded:

truck ferry

A truck ferry going the other way ready to be unloaded:

truck ferry

Our ferry approaches the shore, the border to Zambia. The photos give you an idea of the jumble of vehicles and structures and people that awaits us.

border area

border area

It takes about twenty minutes for our ferry to cross the river. We disembark and are thrust into chaos: a crowd of hawkers. We are trying to keep an eye on our baggage (it was on a different ferry) and Tonia and each other while fending off the Zambians who come close up to us and speak quietly, insistently "hello, my name is such-and-such, I am your friend, I make these beautiful bracelets for you to wear, you need these, buy them from me, mine are the best, the copper is from my country and the finest . . ."

Dropping into that crowd was a jolt. Back into the reality of Africa. This is so, so much the Africa we saw when we were in Togo with Tammy.

Thin pane of glass.

Tonia gathers us from the midst of the throng and gets us onto a tourist bus. Then she collects our passports and cash for visas, and she and the bus driver head for the border office, leaving the six of us on the bus.

Black faces continue to press up to the windows, "copper bracelets, I make them myself, teak animals, big five, I make them myself". We, the very rich very white foreigners, stare forward. I am very conscious of my privileged status, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Just that thin pane of glass separates their world from my world. But what a separation.

My thoughts wander. Last year, when we visited Tammy in Togo, we lived right in the local culture for two weeks. We got in their fro-fros and bush taxis, we stayed in a house like theirs in one of their towns, we shared meals in their homes, we drank in their bars and shopped at their open air markets. We bought items from the hawkers when thirsty or hungry. Tammy was always there to guide us, within an arms reach to help us, and we felt very little uncomfortableness. We were living the Peace Corps way, living like the locals, and only our white skin gave us away.

But this time, at the border, I felt the huge rift in status. We had spent the last week in Africa but in European-style comfort, cushioned in luxury lodges from the local culture. Looking out the bus, we see how most of Africa really is. Poor. It's awkward, I did nothing to deserve this status. But I would not change places with them.

Slowly I become aware that it's taking a long time for Tonia and the driver to return. Then, a guy comes on the bus and says he will drive us up a little ways, out of the throng. He repeats his plan several times. A few of us are apprehensive: we are sitting there without our guide, without our passports! (Is he a kidnapper?) But John and the other guys note that he is wearing the same uniform as our driver, and we say "okay", and he moves us up past the border office. Almost immediately Tonia and our driver return and flourish our stamped passports, all of us smiling at her recount of how she got to the front of the line. And smiling because all is well! We are safe again.

And on our way.

It's about an hour to the Livingstone airport.

Livingstone Airport

We wait in a small restaurant-lounge. Is it too early for a beer? Why no, it's 10:01am!

Mosi beer

Our plane is one of the small ones in the center of this photo:

charter plane

I liked climbing into the small plane. John got to sit up front next to the pilot. They offered us chips and bottled water. We settled into the hour-and-a-half flight.

Here is a view through the foggy plane window and through the hazy sky, taken soon after we took off. Even though it's not a sharp photo, you can see the mist from Victoria Falls in the center of the frame:

view from plane

And now we are at the airstrip in Zambia. Here is our plane on the small landing strip:

our charter plane

We are met by Simeon, our guide in Zambia. He drives us to the Royal Zambezi Lodge, just a few minutes from the private airstrip. We are met with cool glasses of juice. We walk through the open lodge area and gaze on the elephants on the sandbar.

Tonia claimed we'd have to be taken kicking and screaming from the Stanley and Livingstone, our first lodge on the trip. But she was wrong, it's the Royal Zambezi that caught our hearts and still calls to us "come back, come back!"

More on that later. It's time for us to settle into our tents (tents!) and then go out on a boat on the river. To be continued . . .

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